Iraq's Nationalistic Protests Present a Tricky Test for Iran

Nov 19, 2019 | 10:30 GMT

This photo shows clouds of tear gas rising over a protest in Baghdad on Nov. 14, 2019.

Clouds of smoke and tear gas rise over protests in Baghdad on Nov. 14, 2019. The protest movement, driven by anger over corruption and economic malaise in Iraq, has persisted, threatening Iranian interests in the country.

(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)


  • The current Iraqi nationalist protest movement has threatened Iran’s ability to maintain its influence in Iraq. However, Iran has the political and security ties to help the current government in Baghdad remain in place.
  • Fighting to maintain its position in Iraq benefits Iran in the near term but could create blowback over the long haul. 
  • The current government is confident it can quell the unrest, offering only piecemeal solutions to demands for political reform, making it more likely that Iran may have to step in eventually, although it will try to do so quietly.

Protests like the ones that have gripped Iraq for the past few months have been a fact of life in the country for years, if on a smaller scale. The current protest movement, like ones previously, has coalesced around some of the same long-standing issues of government corruption and a lack of economic opportunity. Beyond the size and the scope of the demonstrations, what's new this time around has been the undercurrent of anti-Iranian sentiment flowing through the protests. This raises some difficulty for Tehran as it tries to maintain its political influence over the government in Baghdad to preserve its interest in keeping its neighbor tightly in its orbit. A growing sense of nationalism has marked the protests in Iraq, which began in early October and show little signs of dying out. That has translated into a demand by some Iraqis to end the involvement of foreign interests perceived as interfering in the country...

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